BY GEOFF HOBSON
In their worst display since Dick LeBeau became head coach, the mistake-riddled Bengals never recovered from Baltimore's 21-point second quarter during Sunday's 27-7 loss.
In LeBeau's previous five games, the Bengals (2-7) were close in the fourth quarter because they made relatively few mistakes, forced some turnovers and got a big play or two in the running game from running back Corey Dillon.
Not when Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer defied his career stats (70 TDs, 82 interceptions) and threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions.
Not when Dillon's longest run of the day got wiped out because quarterback Akili Smith didn't give his linemen time to set. On a day Dillon got 23 yards on 16 carries, losing a 19-yarder was like losing a football field.
Not when miscommunication in the secondary, poor tackling up front and a turnover of their own helped Baltimore (6-4) snap its streak of 21 quarters without a touchdown in a numbing 12:03 span in the second quarter.
"We lost our poise as a team, there's no question about that," LeBeau said. "I wish the halftime would have come sooner because we did get our balance back a little bit. We really didn't give ourselves a chance in this game because of that second quarter. . .I think they're a good team, but I truthfully think that the problem was us today."
Start and end with three killing mistakes in a two-minute stretch from which the Bengals couldn't regroup.
Enter with Baltimore leading, 3-0, near the end of the first quarter, and the Bengals pushed back in another passing situation at their own 18 on first-and-15 after Smith didn't give tight end Tony McGee time to get set for a false start penalty.
That allowed Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams, one of the 340-pound anchors of the NFL's top-ranked defense, to tee off. He shot the gap on the right side between guard and center and beat Smith's handoff to force running back Brandon Bennett's fumble at the Bengals 16.
Smith hadn't seen such a play since Pop Warner, when someone jumped over his center to stop a play. . .
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"It was a good play for them at that time," said right guard Mike Goff . "I was pulling and I'm not sure what happened, but it looked like he just picked a hole and went."
It appeared the Bengals held the Ravens to a field-goal attempt, but Cincinnati had 12 men on the field, which gave Dilfer another chance on 3rd-and-7 from the 14.
Apparently, some of the Bengals defensive backs misunderstood which package was needed on the field, the nickel or the dime, and they couldn't get a timeout to straighten it out.
Given another chance, Dilfer threw his first touchdown pass of the season on a slant to Brandon Stokley, making his first catch of the season and second of his career.
Cornerback Rodney Heath said the Bengals were surprised the Ravens lined up in a three-receiver set. When Stokley went in motion across the formation and then broke back outside after running a slant, Heath said there was some confusion. Stokley, dressed only because Travis Taylor wasn't, cashed to break Baltimore's touchdown drought.
"The guy who went in motion is my man and I'm supposed to deny the inside route," Heath said. "I think there might have been some confusion on what the outside (cornerback) was supposed to do. He might have been a little too deep. Once (Stokley) broke out, I think somebody was supposed to pick him up."
With Baltimore allowing less than 11 points per game and Cincinnati scoring 10 points per game, the Ravens' 10-0 lead at that point might as well have been 20-0.
But the Ravens added two more touchdowns, with the last scoring drive aided by two missed tackles.
Ravens running back Jamal Lewis deked strong safety Chris Carter on the way to a 45-yard screen pass, and Dilfer escaped the grasp of lineman Michael Bankston before hitting tight end Shanon Sharpe for a 19-yard touchdown that made it 24-0 with 2:04 left in the first half.
"That was my fault," said defen sive lineman John Copeland. "I had contain on the right side and lost it. If I had kept contain, I might have been there in time before he threw it."
Mistakes were the theme of the day. Akili Smith called them, "frustrating," and he should know because the longest Bengals' drive of the day was seven plays. In all but one one of their nine games, the Bengals' offense has failed to score two touchdowns.
"Dick told us at halftime we were doing it to ourselves, that we were killing ourselves," said nose tackle Oliver Gibson. "He didn't call anybody out. He's the kind of guy who isolates it and he isolated it to the second quarter, when we lost the handle. We don't want to be the kind of team that has to regroup at half time."